This weekend in Major League Baseball marks the beginning of this year’s phase of interleague play. MLB has implemented various innovations in the last twenty or so years and most of them are concepts I don’t like for various reasons but for which I can see some arguments: three-division leagues, wild card playoffs, awarding World Series home advantage to the All-Star game winner, for example. Interleague play is not one of them; I don’t like the idea at all.
I am entirely opposed to interleague play and for all the usual bluff traditionalist reasons. It’s unfair to certain teams every year and unbalances the schedules by subtracting games against league opposition in favour of geographical matchups based on supposed desirability of tickets. This year the Red Sox play more games at both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in the NL than at Oakland in the AL. Why the fuck does that make sense? It doesn’t. And I don’t believe anyone in New England is really that excited at the prospect of a visit from the Cubs unless they’re Cubs fans whose nearest other location to see their team is New York.
Fundamentally, there is no good baseball reason for interleague play to exist; it’s solely a revenue-generating concept. Not that ideas which increase attendances are necessarily a bad thing – the more butts on seats in ballparks, the better. But after fifteen seasons, attendances are not being boosted by these matchups. The Yankees get at least 40,000 through the gates no matter who they play, they don’t need games against the Mets. The Giants have sold out every game this year because they’re World Series champs for the first time in 56 years, not because they’re playing the A’s this weekend. The Red Sox last failed to sell out Fenway Park 657 games ago – the opposition is entirely irrelevant. At the other end of the scale the Marlins can’t get more than 18,000 to a game because they play in a cavernous football stadium with terrible sightlines and no roof to protect against the inevitable Miami evening rain showers. The Rays have a competitive team for the fourth straight year but can’t persuade people to trek to St. Petersburg in large numbers; they get their biggest crowds for the regular AL East games with the Red Sox and Yankees because so many people come to support the opposition.
Yes, yes, I know: the idea was to give fans a chance to see so-called geographical rivals and other desirable opposition in the other league that they hadn’t seen in a long time – or ever, for expansion teams (and the Cubs). I concede that back in 1997 I can see why fans would be drawn to the novelty of the White Sox playing the Cubs, the Yankees playing the Mets and the Giants playing the A’s (even if it had only been eight years since the Bay Bridge World Series). Beyond that, most of the teams don’t have a geographical rivalry other than the one in their division. Cardinals fans care about the Cubs, not the Royals. Red Sox fans care about beating the Yankees, not the Phillies. Dodgers fans hate the Giants, they don’t care about the Angels. Mets fans hate the Phillies. Interleague play is not going to create a rivalry between the Marlins and Rays or Rangers and Astros just because they’re both located in Florida and Texas respectively.
Some people object because they think they difference in Designated Hitter rules is unfair. I agree that this is relevant, but can be avoided providing that each team plays exactly the same number of interleague road games. I haven’t looked into this but I would be astounded if they did. Of course that argument could also be obviated by either dumping the DH or by introducing it in the National League. On the whole I would prefer DH standardisation, but I’m ambivalent about which way. Sure, most pitchers can’t hit for all the tea in China, but on the other hand I like to see teams profit from having pitchers who make an effort to bat and I’m also a fan of small ball.
Oh well, it’s not like this idea is going anywhere while Bud Selig is in charge and hellbent on anything he thinks will make the owners more money. Don’t even get me started on expanding the playoffs.